October is Mental Health Awareness month and it seems there is more national news coverage and broader discussions happening currently regarding mental health issues in America and around the world.

An example of where taking care of one’s mental health garnered a lot of attention recently would be the 2021 Summer Olympics. Famed gymnast Simone Biles opted out of medal competitions to take better care of her mental state. Former Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps gave interviews describing his past and current mental health struggles. Both gold medalists garnered attention for themselves and others by pointing out their own emotional and mental struggles.

Erin Bonstead, a mental health therapist at Unity Point-St. Luke’s and resident of Dakota Dunes, is happy to see more concern placed on the wellbeing of those with mental health issues. However, she thinks there is more attention and additional education that could be done so the general public is made more aware of the many plights and trauma that come with being mentally ill.

“I think the media does a good job when it comes to getting out information about low acuity mental health issues,” Bonstead explained. “However, even with depression – when it gets really bad – there can be some pretty significant symptoms [such] as psychosis – hearing, seeing things, hallucinations, paranoia – that many people don’t know about.”

Bonstead works in a hospital setting and typically the people in need that she sees have “high acuity” when it comes to a mental health diagnosis. This means the patients are very mentally ill and in need of hospitalized care. Court committals, family holds, homicidal patients, individuals with brain injuries or severe dementia and those battling varying degrees of psychosis may be under Bonstead’s care for therapy at any given time.

The goal for Bonstead, her fellow therapists and co-workers and the provider in charge is to help patients get to a place where they can leave the hospital and live a safe life.

Erin Bonstead

Erin Bonstead is a mental health therapist.

“I do a lot of talk therapy… there’s different techniques that you learn,” Bonstead said. “A lot of the stuff I do is called cognitive behavior therapy, so CBT. Or DBT which is dialectical behavior therapy. So basically cognitive is your brain – retraining your brain to think more positive. And then dialectical would be more behavioral.”

Individual sessions and group therapy three times a day are two main agendas that fill Bonstead’s daily schedule at work. Another part of her job is assisting the social worker in her behavioral health unit to find placements for patients so they may leave the hospital.

According to Bonstead, there are many who suffer from mental illness to the extent that they cannot live alone or be taken care of by a family member. This means many working in the mental health field have to locate group home placements to accommodate patients who are ready to leave the hospital, but not be on their own. This is where Bonstead feels many are unaware of a big issue as it pertains to mental health awareness.

“In January 2015, [Iowa] Governor Branstad announced plans to close some mental health facilities which contributed to the decline in the number of mental health beds available in Iowa,” Bonstead detailed. “The thought was that a majority of people could take care of their mental health in [a] less restrictive setting such as outpatient [care]. However, since then we have learned that some individuals have such significant mental health issues that outpatient treatment isn’t conducive or appropriate to their current mental health needs.”

See full story in this week’s Dakota Dunes / North Sioux City Times.